Night of the Demon (1957)
NIGHT OF THE DEMON
WRITER: Screenplay by Charles Bennett and Hal E. Chester
Based on a story by Montague R. James
DIRECTOR: Jaques Tourneur
STARRING: Dana Andrews as John Holden
Peggy Cummins as Joanna Harrington
Niall McGinnis as Doctor Karswell
Maurice Denham as Professor Harrington
Athene Seyler as Mrs. Karswell
QUICK CUT: While investigating the claims of whether or not demons are real, Doctor Holden discovers a deeper world of magic than he ever knew existed.
Holden - A scientist and psychologist, with a specialty of investigating paranormal things and debunking them. He seems rigid in his scepticism, and that can be just as bad. But he seems like a good sort.
Joanna - The love interest for John, as evidenced by their meet-cute on a plane where they both get on each other's nerves before eventually realising they have a mutual acquaintance in Joanna's dead uncle Harold.
Karswell - Our villain, and I love him. He's kind, pleasant, loves kids, loves his mom, and does good public works when he's not leading a cult of witches and summoning demons to kill people that disagree with him.
THE GUTS: Ahh! Ahhhh!!! Triskelions beware! After cracking open the seals with the 6th, 6th!, 6TH!! anniversary, I thought the Jersey Devil was the worst of it! But Max Jenke cracking through the veil of death has opened a door, followed by yesterday being Halloween, the night when demons and spirits roam free and the barriers at at their thinnest! All these occurances have caused a horde of demons to flow through into this world, and it will take me at least the entire month to deal with them, yes a veritable...MONTH OF THE DEMONS!
This kicks off another month with extra bonus reviews, starting today with our first demon, THE NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Singular, yes. It's also worth noting that this was released in the United States as CURSE of the Demon, and edited down by a good 15 minutes. I'm looking at the original, longer, Britishier version. This movie dates back to 1957, and it's good to get in another real classic black and white horror flick. What this means for the future is still unclear, as I first have to survive the machinations of Doctor Karswell...
A situation that Harold Harrington is all too familiar with, as the movie opens up. He rushes to Karswell's home, a renowned occultist, whom he has called out as a fake, and is panicking for some reason. Karswell seems to agree to call off whatever horrors he has unleashed upon the man, but he also hurries his visitor out the door, because no one wants an angry demon to come for tea.
With good reason it would seem, as on his way home, Harrington is attacked by the Glow Cloud that transforms into a giant demonic form, causing him to crash his car and get electrocuted.
Soon, Doctor Holden and Harrington's niece both arrive in London, and are on the case. Holden is a psychologist who specialises in debunking the paranormal. He's the James Randi of his time.
A couple of fellow scientists and such show up at Holden's hotel to discuss Harrington's death, Karswell's cult, and another person who has gone into catatonic shock and will become a plot point at a later date. I like this group of characters, and it's a shame they don't do more with them. The movie presents various viewpoints, all equally valid, and it gives Holden a good group to serve as a sounding board.
While Holden hits up the library to do some research, he discovers the last book he needs is in the possession of the same Doctor Karswell at the center of everything. The demon summoning occultist shows up at the library and offers Holden to come around to check the book out.
Joanna and Holden meet up to discuss her uncle's death, and Holden's continuing investigation. We find out about a mysterious parchment that Harrington found with a supposedly magical curse written in runes. Holden isn't buying for a second that his associate was killed by runic witchcraft.
Later, the Spooknamic Duo head to Karswell's estate and discover the evil mastermind is throwing a Halloween party for local children, giving them ice cream, and performing magic for them. That *monster*.
He hands out puppies magicked up from his hat. They must be evil, evil puppies. After the show, he greets his guests most kindly, and his mother offers them some ice cream. I really love making the villain this super nice guy, who lives with his mother and is great with kids.
It's made all the better by Karswell talking about the occult and making thinly veiled magical threats all while in clown makeup. Such a fun way to present your bad guy. Not to mention he also calls himself Doctor Bobo.
As they chat, Holden holds on to his skepticism, and Karswell tries to spook him by 'summoning' a storm that drops half a tree near them. Holden remains convinced it's just coincidence, or a clever magician knowing when a storm will hit, and I love that the movie rides that line on whether the magic is real or not.
They rush inside out of the cyclone, and Obnoxio the Clown predicts Holden's death for the 28th of October, unless he stops investigating the cult. If it's not magical, it's still some good psychological trickery of messing with his victim's head.
After he gets spooked by the Nimon hunting him in the hotel corridor, Holden chats with his circle of scientific friends, and they discover that all the pages from his appointment book have been ripped out on the days following his threatened demise. The evils of vandalism!!
Holden and Joanna have dinner, and they discover the same thing happened to Harrington's datebook. Holden explains it away as more trickery trying to make the 'cursed' person believe, and sees that the runic parchment is the key. Well, since he hasn't received one, he's safe, yay!
Well, until he remembers Karswell picking up some papers he dropped, and oops, there's the parchment right there! And it is promptly blown out of his hand and tries to jump into the fire and burn to ash.
Holden remembers the guy that claims he saw the demon, and heads to the supposed murderer's farmstead to talk with his family, and hopefully get some answers. They tell him about Rand Hobart's own parchment, and how he passed it on to someone else, so the demon killed that guy instead. Boy, it's good that scroll didn't go up in flames! But when the family sees the scroll, they shun Holden and send him on his way.
Following his visit with the McRudersons, Holden heads out to Stonehenge where the demons dwell, to, I dunno, have a picnic? I guess he's just there to read the runes on the stones.
He meets Joanna later that night, and she takes him to meet with Karswell's mother, who wants to hold a seance. Ahahaha, yeah, that'll go over well with Dr. McSceptic.
The seance is hilarious and over the top, in ways I've never seen before. From singing because of spirits, to the more usual voice impersonations. And it's great, because Holden just has this constant look on his face of "You have GOT to be kidding me."
Eventually, the medium tunes in Harrington, to pass on a message for Holden to give up the investigation, it's the only way to save himself. And it still works on multiple levels. It's either a real message trying to warn off Holden, or it's fakery from followers of Karswell trying to turn attention away from their cult.
After the hilarity of the seance, Holden and Joanna head to Karswell's place to try and find his translation of the magic book he's supposedly using to do all this trickery.
Holden sneaks through the woods to the house, while Joanna waits to be the getaway driver. Once he's inside the house, he is slowly followed by an unseen figure that we all know is Karswell. He also soon runs into a friendly cat that just wants to say hi...and claw his face off when it transforms into a leopard. Oh, and just because I am the X-Geek that I am, the cat's name is Greymalkin.
After the encounter, Holden exits the way he came, clearly becoming increasingly spooked at Karswell's potentially real power. But fortunately he still keeps his scpetical wits largely together.
I mean, what could possibly go wrong by walking through the woods, in the middle of the night, when a warlock is threatening you with a demonic attack within the next 24 hours?
Well, nothing, except for the demon getting bored and deciding to say hey a few hours earlier and popping up out of the fog engulfing the English moors.
They head to Scotland Yard to report the threat, but they don't exactly know what to do about demonic attack dogs. But while you're there, you should totally check out the horrors in their black museum!!
Since that was a bust, and Holden insults Joanna and her beliefs so she leaves him, he once again turns to the League of Extraordinary Scientists for some advice.
The group finally meets with Rand Hobart and uses drugs and hypnosis to pull him out of his comatose state, and get some answers.
He tells them about the night he was attacked, the night of the demon, and how he survived the attack by passing on the parchment to another poor soul. In case you didn't get that already.
The man gets shown the parchment Holden still has, and he freaks out, fearing that Holden might try and pass the runes on to him, and rushes out of the room. Rather than be taken by the demon, he self-defenestrates.
Holden decides he needs to give the parchment back to Karswell, probably just to be on the safe side, and rushes for the train station, where Karswell is trying to book it out of town and be unavailable to save Holden when the time comes.
The good doctor rushes for the station to catch the last train from plaform 9 3/4ths and head to Hogwarts. Holden just barely makes it aboard Karswell's train and tracks the man down to his cabin.
Karswell naturally isn't stupid enough to just *take* the parchment, and oh, he has Joanna along for the ride too, just to keep her involved in the plot.
I love the back and forth between the pair, as Holden tries to palm off the parchment in a variety of ways, but Karswell is always right there with him, and won't accept anything back.
Things get heated, and the police that were keeping an eye on Karswell just in case, intervene and rush him off the train. But not before Holden hands him his coat in the hurry to escape the inevitable demon attack heading straight for them.
Karswell pulls out the parchment, and its magic need to destroy itself yanks it from his hands. Iit whooshes down the train, with the doctor in pursuit of the only thing that can save his life.
He chases the scroll out of the train and down the tracks, desperate to grab it, but it remains forever just out of his reach. And just as he is about to snatch it up, it conveniently bursts into flames, and all Karswell gets is ashes.
Which is when the billowing smoke appears, and the demon comes in riding a train like it's a kiddie ride at an amusement park.
So Doctor Bobo is killed by his pet demon, and Holden and Joanna ride the train off into the sunset after examining his crushed body. It must have been the train! Of course!
Be sure to come back in a week to read my review of...Night of the Demon?!
Video: It's maybe a little soft, but it looks good for the bloody 1950s, I'd say.
Audio: About what you'd expect.
Sound Bite: "I always preferred sliding down the snakes as opposed to climbing up the ladders." Dr. Karswell and his games.
Body Count: It may have been light on the bodies, but it was a different time.
1 - Henry Harrington runs from a monster and crashes his car. Seven minutes
2 - Rand Hobard kills himself rather than be given a parchment.
3 - Dr. Karswell is the final victim of his own curse
Best Corpse: I'm partial to Karswell being scooped up and smacked like a bad puppy, and crushed.
Blood Type - F: Unsurprisingly, nothing too gory here, it's all in the story. But it does a pretty nice creature and effects.
Sex Appeal: Nothing here!
Drink Up! Every time someone pulls out one of the parchments. Double shots if it tries to fly away.
Video Nasties: I know it's a long, slow walk and talk, but I rather enjoy this different take on a villain, being completely disarming and charming.
Movie Review: Keeping in mind that this was the 1950s, this was super enjoyable. It's more of a thriller, but it is very well made, and I love how it straddles that line between is it real, or is it all just trying to trick Holden with the power of the human mind? It's a solid story, and has some good moments. The friendly villain is great, and his interaction with Holden is nice. I wish they had chosen to NEVER show the demon, and leave it up to the audience if there was true magical things going on, or if it was all Karswell using the power of suggestion. THAT would've made a powerful movie out of something already really good. Keeping in mind it's age, and pacing for a different time and sensibility, I give this four out of five glow clouds.
Entertainment Value: Outside of just being made in the 50s, there's not much to laugh at here. The seance has it's moments with its silly medium, and the creature is chuckle-worthy, but mostly this is just a solid movie all around. Oh, and sure, having your bad guy dress up as a clown and give threatening proclamations is amusing. All the entertainment comes it from this being a perfectly good 50s suspense movie. Three out of five flying parchments.